I was reading an article in yesterday’s Washington Post sports page about John Wall’s recent struggles since the All-Star break.
While dealing with physical exhaustion, migraines, aches and pains when he still has the rest of the season to complete and compete, I am reminded of so many players like him over the years that I watched battle through these issues.
It reminds me again how difficult a season is for professional athletes. Of course, the sport I know best is basketball. I should have learned something after forty-six years of watching some of the best athletes in the world deal with these problems.
Early in our tenure in the sport, I had no understanding of what these talented young men needed to do to play a full season — the kind of personal, psychological, and physical battles they constantly faced and how they endure them. Yes, much of the challenge is physical, including dealing with injuries, rehab, coming back to the team, etc.
But I think the bigger challenge is mental.
What does it take to play through pain, ice the knees on the bench and then get back on the court, while at the same time worry delivering the perfect pass to your teammate and helping your team win. Not wanting to let your teammates, as well as the coaches and the fans down, as they all have such high expectations.
Yes, they often get great salaries, fame, adoration but the road to get to the NBA and have success is rough and uneven. It is not the salary that drives John down the court ignoring the pain in his legs but his incredible professionalism — the years of discipline.
What I’ve learned over the years, getting to know so many of these young men, is the kind of mental toughness that very few people have.
Wall played through migraines and a sprained ankle. He is playing not just for himself and his own pride, but also for his teammates and the fans.
John, you are a superstar! And you are living and playing like the leader everyone looks up to. I couldn’t have known that when I picked your lottery number!